VTS is proud of saying it has published the largest book ever written by an Episcopal bishop. Indeed, Church: A Generous Community Amplified for the Future is hefty. But in these pages the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle lays out a compelling vision for the future of the Church, and for the future of Christianity.
We all are “self-forming creative Christians,” Bishop Doyle says, with a desire to learn and create in new and innovative ways. Yet Doyle laments the fact that many parishes offer adult formation only in a classroom model, with a priest/”expert” imparting knowledge. The future Church, Bishop Doyle suggests, will innovate adult formation through creativity (he praises the innovation in Godly Play, Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, and other Montessori-type models) and technology.
Bishop Doyle discusses the terrific TED talk in which British educator Sir Ken Robinson provocatively asks if traditional schooling models kill creativity and innovation. This is the type of thinking Bishop Doyle is calling us to as formation leaders in the Church.
“In order to be the future Church we must awake to the reality of a world filled with self-learners, storytellers, and people making their self-directed way,” he writes. So how do we help these self-learners make their own way? Bishop Doyle highlights Jesus’ engagement with individual people on an individual basis, describing something that sounds like “learner-centered education” and “differentiated instruction.”
As public schools and universities look to find the types of instruction that engage people with different learning styles, we come to understand that there is not shortage of innovation. The Church must do the same, Bishop Doyle says. In Church he traces the early methods of formation beginning with Jesus, and then later in Acts as Jesus’ disciples carried on the tradition of genuine engagement with many people in many different ways. The historical church was willing to try many different methods to help form new followers of Jesus, and Bishop Doyle is urging the future Church do the same.
“The future Church must adopt a new way of thinking about formation. It will engage in diverse opportunities for individuals of every age to play and experiment with Christianity, and their story…,” Bishop Doyle argues. “We have to be willing to try things, be ok with getting some things wrong, and if they do not work out, try something else.”
Bishop Doyle shares an interesting story about Dr. Sugata Mitra. Dr. Mitra is an educational researcher who placed an Internet-connected computer in a slum in India without any guidance. What he found was that children in the neighborhood taught themselves to read so they could use the computer, and then taught themselves how to use the computer so they could learn.
Technology has revolutionized learning
Bishop Doyle challenges us to think of technology not merely as a tool to enable learning, but rather, as the “space where formation is happening.” The future Church must not limit formation to Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights, he argues, but rather make resources available, on-demand, “whenever and wherever the self-learner taps into the community.”
Self-learners are powered by technology. When I needed to learn to tie a bowtie, I didn’t ask my friend for help but rather searched YouTube.
Likewise, online learning has disrupted traditional education. With communities such as Khan Academy and Lynda.com self-learners can study everything from beginning photography to advanced physics. Within The Episcopal Church, this method is also gaining some momentum. Sites like Church Next and parish offerings such as St. Pat’s (D.C.) new Weekday Faith are leading the way.
Bishop Doyle calls on the future Church to create and share both resources and tools to enable this self-learning, bringing our ancient faith to the modern world. As Bishop Doyle writes, the future Church “will invest in creating a flourishing formation ecosystem of two millennia of spiritual teaching, sacred texts and wisdom writing for the theologically interested.”
This emphasis on self-learning leaves out one key component of faith formation, however. We’re not just educating people, but shaping lives and communities. The role of the community in the life of the learner, and the role of the learner in the life of the community, will be the focus of a future post.